Madrid: Micro Theater
Micro Theater consists of plays that last between 10 and 15 minutes for an audience of up to 15 people.
The stage is a small venue, such as a 10 square meter room, or even smaller, that's 100 square feet, where the audience feels at one with the show. The actors are practically mixed up with the public. All plays are originals, and all verse on one topic, different takes on whatever the subject.
The venue sells tickets for plays continuously from 8pm to 12am, and there is a flat screen indicating what plays are now live and what is next. In Madrid's venue, there are 5 rooms, and the cost of each play is 4 euro.
The format is incredibly simple, which makes this a wonderfully original concept.
Micro Theater for Money in Madrid
Micro Theater for Money is the actual name of this concept. Madrid's venue is now located in an old butcher's shop, in a street with a fancy name quite close to where it was originally born.
The floor at street level is a rather regular bar where one can order a beer, a snack, even some cocktails, while they wait for their show to be announced. Cost of the refreshments is ordinary, this is no upscale, overpriced venue.
The "ticket office" is in this floor, and a flat screen displays what shows are available and the times for each play. It's a cycle that repeats itself in each of the 5 stage rooms from 8pm to midnight.
The stage rooms are in the lower level, and when a room number and a time are called, you'll see a line of up to 15 folks ready to go down the stairs. A hostess will take the audience down and deliver the mini speech about silence, cells off, et all, plus a small indication of where and how to sit.
The rooms in Madrid are actually 7 square meters (75 square feet). Little stools are available for about 8 or 9, the rest of the public is asked to remain standing against the wall. It gets crowded, but in a very cool way too, as the crowd isn't only made of public, it's also made of actors.
Actors are really in your face, as in, breathing next to you, literally. Myself, I was asked to hold one of the props during the play. Talk about being part of a show!
The Original Concept
I'm glad to report Micro Theater is an innovative concept born in Madrid, Spain. It started in November 2009, in a venue that used to be a brothel in Ballesta street, the neuralgic center of Madrid's Red Light district in the eighties.
This area behind the now flashy and modern Gran Via has been in rehab for years and is now a trendy spot in the city. But to those of us who have lived here long enough, Ballesta will always be a reminder of the hundreds of sex workers roaming the streets in that area, and of little red lights under many doors in each corner.
For this reason, I find the way Micro Theater was born exceedingly original. At the time, Miguel Alcantud visited "La Maison de la Lanterne Rouge" (The House of the Red Light), the name of the old brothel, and got the idea into his head. He sought a group of authors and directors and gave them three premises: Tell stories about prostitution, which ought to be short and which shouldn't fall on easy common places.
Thus was born the "For Money" concept, a name clearly reminiscent of the sex market, where 13 micro plays that versed on prostitution, most happening simultaneously, were offered to "customers" who could pick what show to watch at their fancy.
Within the old brothel, the sex market format was used to sell plays. There was a blackboard with names of 'workers' and 'plays', and customers would pick right then and there what show to watch, at one euro per play.
That venue's stage rooms where indeed very small, as they were none other than the brothel's little rooms for the sex exchange to happen. Back in its beginnings, audience would be made up of 1 to 5 or 6 people. The aim was that the public felt like voyeurs.
Lines to access the micro plays in the old brothel became increasingly large. Streets that used to be avoided by any and all decent (ahem) denizens of the city were now crowded by micro theater goers.
The 13 plays that versed on prostitution had an influx of public that wouldn't stop. As I read the reports, the show was primarily publicized by word of mouth, although some newspapers also gave the new concept some coverage.
At that point, a group of playwrights, actors and directors decided to secure a slightly bigger venue to transplant the format into a creative business. Also at the time, the start-up name of "For Money", which was still reminiscent of the sex scene, was transformed into "Micro Theater for Money".
Today, because the concept has taken deep root in the city, micro plays are also available for children on weekend mornings. The concept is exactly the same, just the topics are for children, and the cost is 3 euro instead of the regular 4.
Spreading the Wings of Micro Theater
As all things good and worthwhile, the Micro Theater concept started showing up in other Spanish cities, Segovia, Burgos, Zaragoza, Barcelona… The premise is always the same, short plays, always originals and always focusing on one topic, and stage rooms that fit up to 15 people.
In Segovia it's actually a nice twist they introduced: the plays are performed in cells of an old prison which is now used as a cultural venue.
Economic, Accessible, Original
It's economic enough that you can spare a few bucks for a play or two without having to cancel dinner plans. It's actually a sort of LOW COST theater!
It's quick and cyclic enough that you don't need to plan for it with lots of time in advance, just go over if you're in the vicinity, since plays happen quickly and you'll be able to grab a ticket for the next pass, or the one after.
It's definitely original and smart enough that you'll feel like you've been somewhere special.
I much recommend it if Micro Theater plays anywhere near you.